OBESITY needs to be treated as a chronic disease in order to address the growing epidemic, a Hunter GP says.
As previously reported in the Newcastle Herald, recent figures taken from the Australia’s Health Trackers report showed Raymond Terrace and Scone had the highest population of overweight or obese people in the state.
Dr Chris Boyle, of Raymond Terrace Family Practice, said if the Australian government recognised obesity as a chronic disease, doctors could do more to help change those statistics by putting patients on a subsidised health care plan.
Obesity fed into chronic diseases such as Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma, but having to wait until it turned into one of these illnesses was effectively waiting until the “horse had bolted” before offering the necessary health care, Dr Boyle said.
“When you look at the statistics, the well educated people who can afford things in Merewether have good health, whereas people in Raymond Terrace - where we are not so well educated, and are not so financially well off - we can’t afford it,” he said.
If obesity was treated as a chronic disease, GPs could refer patients to see health specialists, such as dietitians and exercise physiologists, without the hefty price tag.
“We can refer them, but if you said to someone that it is going to cost 100 bucks a throw, then they are going to say, ‘No, I can’t afford it’,” Dr Boyle said.
“It would make it much easier financially for them if it was treated as a chronic disease, because if they were on a care plan, they’d get something back from Medicare.”
Dr Boyle said a lot of money was spent on funding big hospitals, when the goal should be keeping people out of hospital. The federal government was “crazy” if it did not change its position on obesity.
It was a major risk factor for Type II diabetes, which was a huge financial burden.
Dr Boyle said if doctors could help prevent people from becoming diabetic it would make a big impact on their health, as well as the Australian economy.
“If you look after people well and keep them out of hospital, you save the government a bundle of dough,” he said.
“But our hands are tied.”
The World Health Organisation regards obesity as a chronic disease, as does the American Medical Association, but Australia is yet to follow suit. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said 70 per cent of obese people had at least one condition or disease, increasing their health care costs by 30 per cent. Recent studies had put the health costs of obesity in Australia above $8.6 billion a year, AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said.